Hamming It Up Old Style

This morning I got a nice pumpernickel bagel with Virginia ham. It was yummy. It made me homesick for Virginia.

It also reminded me of a concession speech at the end of a long-ago senate race by (now-former-governor) Democrat Mark Warner. He made a good showing for a relative unknown, but lost to veteran Virginia Republican, incumbent John Warner. The younger Warner seemed content and even excited and said – apparently sincerely – that it was an honor to concede to the old man and asked the “Salty old Virginia Ham [to] keep bringing home the bacon.”

In 2008, this would be extraordinary. In 1996, it seemed natural. Cute, cordial, but nothing all that special. It was in the early years of the vitriolic Gingrich Revolution. The divisions hadn’t fully set in yet. Bitterness still seemed to be an upstart tactic rather than the established norm.

These days, we rarely – make that NEVER – see this kind of genuine cross-party congeniality, much less encouragement. I haven’t been back living Virginia for many years but my guess is that even Mark Warner doesn’t talk/think that way any more. But it’s obviously possible. There was a time – long before Warner v. Warner – when it was commonplace.

I don’t mean to posit a mythical past filled with civic harmony. I just think the partisanship was less pervasive, less default. Ordinary people like my parents were able to be quite liberal themselves while respecting people like Henry Kissinger and William F. Buckley for their intellect and accomplishments, even while disagreeing with them. Republican presidents appointed moderate and liberal justices, based on jurisprudential abilities rather than mere ideology.

I’ve changed too. As a young girl (and even more staunchly feminist than I am now), I was thrilled about Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment in a way that I’m not sure I would be today about a Republican first female president or chief justice or secretary of defense. . . .  Of course there are other reasons for that.  As an adult my policy concerns are a bit more complex than the preoccupation with “a first woman anything.” But I know there is more to it than that. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy excited me at least in part because she is a woman. But I wonder if a Condi Rice candidacy would have quite the same resonance even at this basic, feminist level.

For all the talk of “post partisan” politics this election cycle, the sincerest among us probably imagine a kumbaya moment when, in the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood, we absolve the other side of its sins; NOT a good faith allowance that they might have good ideas — or even good intentions. Maybe good faith, like innocence, can’t be recovered once lost?

At the end of innocence, sometimes there is wisdom. Let’s hope. . . .

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